Dog Breed: Does It Affect a Dog Bite Lawsuit?

Categories: Dog Bite

German Shepherd Dog Jumping

Dog bites are traumatic, no matter how minor the attack is. You can be left with severe or even catastrophic injuries in some cases. Fortunately, there are laws in place to protect dog bite victims. Filing a personal injury lawsuit is one avenue of recovery. Understandably, some people want to know the impact of the dog breed on a dog bite lawsuit. Does the type of breed affect litigation at all—either good or bad? Some states have breed-specific legislation (BSL) that could impact your lawsuit. However, Washington recently passed a new law that does away with breed-restrictive bans.

If you or someone you love suffered a dog bite, you could have a viable claim for damages. Dog bite claims are typically very complex, which is why you need a skilled Washington dog attack lawyer on your side. To learn more about your rights, contact Brett McCandlis Brown & Conner PLLC.

Does Dog Breed Affect a Dog Bite Lawsuit?

You might be wondering whether it matters if you were bit by a pit bull or chihuahua. In Washington, the breed should not impact liability because cities and counties cannot necessarily prohibit certain breeds any longer. What matters is whether the dog owner is liable under Washington’s dog bite law.

The Revised Code of Washington (RCW) Section 16.08.040 says that the owner of a dog who bites someone while the person is in or on a public place or lawfully on or in a private place (including the dog owner’s property) will be liable for the victim’s damages, regardless of whether the dog was previously vicious or the owner knew there was the potential for viciousness. This means that the owner could be liable the first time a dog bites someone, regardless of whether the owner acted negligently.

Dog owners are liable for any injuries their dog causes in public or on their own property, provided the victim did not provoke the dog. The law is very straightforward. It does not matter what breed the dog is under the Washington dog bite law.

It’s important to understand that the dog bite doesn’t have to visibly break your skin to present a claim for your damages. For example, if you are riding a bike when a dog chases you, you might lose your balance and suffer an accident. The dog owner could be liable for your injuries from the accident, even though their dog didn’t bite you. You would not have gotten into an accident but for the dog attempting to attack you.

House Bill 1026 — Breed Restrictive Laws in Washington

Before 2020, at least 27 cities in Washington enacted dog breed ordinances that allowed them to prohibit specific breeds of dogs or placed additional restrictions on these potentially dangerous breeds. In 2019, the State of Washington enacted House Bill 1026, which does away with the restrictive breed bans. Under the new law, cities and counties cannot prohibit the possession of a specific breed of dog or declare a dog dangerous or potentially dangerous based on breed unless certain conditions are met. These conditions are:

  • The city or county must establish and maintain a reasonable process for breed-based exemptions if the dog passes the American Kennel Club “canine good citizen test” of there is a reasonable equivalent canine behavioral test;
  • Dogs that successfully pass the good citizen test or the equivalent are exempt from these breed-based regulations for a minimum of two years;
  • Dogs that pass the test or equivalent can retest to maintain their exemption; and
  • Any dog that fails the good citizen test or its reasonable equivalent can retest within a reasonable amount of time, which the county or city will determine.

This section of the law applies to dogs, defined as domesticated members of the family Canidae, specifically the species Canus lupus familiaris. This section of the law excludes coyotes, wolves, coyote-dog hybrids, and wolf-dog hybrids.

Homeowner Insurance Restrictions

Although Washington law says that a city or county cannot restrict a homeowner or resident from owning certain breeds, their insurance company might refuse to insure them. If there is no applicable coverage, it could impact your lawsuit and ability to recover compensation.

The types of dog breeds that insurance companies restrict will vary by company. There is no comprehensive, detailed published list that applies across the industry. But according to Value Penguin, potentially aggressive dogs that insurance companies might choose not to insure include:

  • Pit bulls,
  • Wolf hybrids,
  • German shepherds,
  • Presa Canarios,
  • Akitas,
  • Rottweilers,
  • Staffordshire terriers,
  • Siberian huskies,
  • Chows,
  • Great Danes,
  • Alaskan malamutes, and
  • Doberman pinschers.

While these may be considered some of the most dangerous or aggressive dog breeds, they aren’t necessarily the ones who bite the most. According to Canine Journal, a study by the CDC shows that approximately 4.5 million dog bites occur across the country each year, with around 800,000 of them requiring medical assistance.

Some dogs that are known to bite the most include smaller breeds such as:

  • Chihuahuas,
  • Lhasa apso,
  • Papillion,
  • Cocker spaniel,
  • Jack Russell terrier, and
  • Pekingese.

In your Washington dog bite lawsuit, what’s important is determining liability against the dog owner, regardless of breed.

Common Dog Owner Defenses

It should come as no surprise that insurance companies will vigorously defend their insureds in dog bite litigation. The insurance company does not want the exposure and liability. Depending on the severity of your injuries and future expected medical costs, these can be expensive claims to defend. Therefore, you should expect the dog owner or their insurance company to use any potential legal defense they can.

Some of the most common defenses used by defendants in a dog bite case include:

  • The victim voluntarily risked injury;
  • The victim was trespassing at the time of the attack; and
  • The victim was partially or fully to blame for the dog bite.

Also, you cannot sue if your dog bite originated from a police or military dog acting in the line of duty or defending itself.

Contact a Washington Dog Attack Lawyer

If you sustained injuries in a dog bite, it’s crucial to speak with an experienced Washington dog attack attorney as quickly as possible. Our legal team has over 40 years of combined litigation experience and a proven record of success in dog bite cases. We offer free consultations, so you have nothing to lose by scheduling a meeting with our office. Contact our attorneys today to learn more about how we can assist you in getting the compensation you deserve after a dog bite.